Who deserves more pay: Drone pilots or commercial truck drivers?

By |  September 15, 2017

Think about this: the person navigating a 500-ton dump truck at 70 mph on a busy freeway is likely being paid less than the person flying a 1-pound plastic drone over a sparsely populated commercial site.

Think of the skills and risks of both activities, and you’ll see that the current payscale is a relic of the past. However, the drone industry is on the brink of a massive transformation that is going to change the pay scale in very short order, and that is good for vendors serving the market and the businesses utilizing drones.

The advent of remote pilot certification by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2016 has been a game-changer. Now, to get a license, you can study for a few hours and go to an FAA testing center. The minimum passing score is 70 percent, or 42 out of 60 questions. The pass rate is very high.

Often, flying a drone requires almost zero effort, as they are practically flying themselves. Compare this to the barrier to entry for a commercial driver’s license, which will require many more hours of training, a driving test and medical certifications. Despite this, drone pilots are commanding higher salaries, creating a barrier to industry growth.

URC Ventures’ David Boardman anticipates drone pilots to be as accessible as an Uber driver in the coming years. Photo courtesy of Luck Stone.

Thanks to a quickly-evolving market, the prices for drones are declining as quality rises. All configurations, from tiny quadcopters to robust drones, are now readily available, whether ordered from Amazon or purchased at a local big box store. The use of drone photography has increased, finding expanded applications in real estate, agriculture and construction, as well as branching out into sports, weddings, delivery services and even search and rescue.

The new regulations are a great step. It’s reasonable for pilots to have the basic knowledge required to fly a drone, an understanding of air space rules, and the ability to communicate with air traffic control. Today, many of the current “pilots” are really unlicensed amateurs and rule enforcement is low. But this legal path to piloting has changed the landscape.

For commercial purposes, as companies get savvy about the new regulations and need to comply with corporate insurance and safety policies, getting a license will quickly become the norm. Enforcement of licensing will likewise increase, keeping a growing industry safe.

And the market will respond.

Soon, the number of licensed pilots will dramatically increase. High school students as young as 16 will be getting a license just as they get their driver’s license, creating a pool of skilled workers. Entrepreneurs have already begun aggregating pilots into available pools, much like how Uber did with drivers. In fact, getting a drone pilot will soon be as easy and cost-effective as getting an Uber driver to pick you up.

As these costs drop greatly, the vendors serving the market can scale at unprecedented speeds. The landscape for the drone-based market is going to look remarkably different in a year. We anticipate that engaging a drone pilot will be an inexpensive endeavor, which is appropriate for a task that often involves little more than opening a mobile app and pressing a button to send a drone into flight.

Unlike backing an 18-wheeler into a parking dock, or navigating a massive commercial truck at a high rate of speed, this is something almost anyone can do. The possibilities this creates in the market are limitless.


David Boardman is the CEO and co-founder of Stockpile Reports.

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